Balloon Clips Powerlines, 11 People Killed In Fireball – Update: Urgent Inquiry Launched

Update: 23 February 2012. Balloon may’ve not been airworthy and urgent checks of all of New Zealand’s hot air balloons has been recommended

Carterton tragedy Balloon airworthiness questioned

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has launched an urgent inquiry following “serious” findings of a report into the Carterton balloon tragedy.

The balloon, which crashed in Carterton on January 7 killing 11 all people on board, might not have been airworthy, investigators found.

The Transport Accident Investigation Commission (TAIC) has released preliminary findings showing several maintenance requirements were not followed by those operating the balloon, including procedures for inspecting the balloon’s burners and fuel system, and a “grab test” to test the strength of the balloon material.

As a result TAIC has recommended that Civil Aviation make an urgent check of New Zealand’s 74 hot air balloons to test for airworthiness…” read the full article here


Eleven people, including the pilot, have been killed in a hot air balloon crash in the Wairarapa.

Pilot Lance Hopping, CEO of Ballooning New Zealand Ltd, and five couples from the Wellington region were killed when their balloon (a Cameron A 210 named “Mr Big” reg. number ZK-XXF) burst into flames and became caught up in powerlines near Carterton this morning, cutting power to the town for some hours.

This is New Zealand’s largest air disaster since the death of nine people, including tourists, in a light plane crash at Fox Glacier on 4 Sept 2010. That event went largely unnoticed outside of New Zealand because it happened on the same day as the first Christchurch earthquake. For more read Fox Glacier air crash.

Few people know that New Zealand’s first fatal air accident (1899)  involved a balloon which landed in the sea, drowning the pilot.

Another similar tragedy happened in 1995, when a balloon belonging to a company called Balloon Adventures ditched in the sea off Waimairi Beach in Christchurch. Three tourists drowned

It is not known whether any foreign nationals were involved in today’s crash, nor have any names been released other than the pilot’s.

The company, Hastings based Early Morning Balloons ltd (Facebook page) is said to be involved and is cooperating with civil aviation investigators. It has issued a statement expressing their condolences to the families and loved ones of the victims.

A witness told Fairfax News

“he was waving to the passengers as the balloon passed overhead and appeared to hit a power cable.

“The people were enjoying a nice ride and by the looks of it they clipped a power wire,” he said.

“Then I heard the screams and looked out the window and heard it coming down. They sounded like screams of joy but they weren’t. It wasn’t coming from a great deal of height.

“I ran down the road to see if I could help but by that stage it was too late. It was just burned out. By the time the emergency services got there, there wasn’t much of a chance.”… more here

According to the company’s website it charges $350 per person for its Wairarapa flights which take off from behind the paua shop on Kent Street, Clareville, a street criss-crossed with overhead powerlines.

Fire extinguisher and safety equipment

A sequence of photographs taken by local photographer Geoff Walker just days ago shows the balloon seemingly very close to overhead power lines, and one news report stated he was on the ground taking photos as the balloon burst into flames and crashed.

Those photographs are likely to form an important part of the investigation into what went wrong with ZK-XXF.

Various reports say that a fire started in the passenger basket and spread up the ropes towards the canopy. One of the questions we would expect to be answered is did the pilot carry and use an operational  1 kg AB:E type fire extinguisher to fight the blaze? Some of Mr Walkers photographs seem to show a small red extinguisher stored in the same compartment as the propane cylinders.

Other safety equipment that should’ve been on-board includes a simple pair of flame resistant gloves for the pilot so that he could shut off a gas valve in the event of a leak. In addition, the pilot should’ve been wearing clothing made of natural fibres which will singe and not burn readily. source

We suspect that the basket hit a powerline as the balloon made its descent, the wires made contact causing a spark which ignited a propane gas leak, causing a fierce fire. However, it will be a good 6-12 months before the accident investigation is concluded.

Google street view of the street outside the launch site

Google street view of the crash site on nearby Somerset Street

Our thoughts are with the family and friends of the deceased and with the witnesses to the crash who must’ve been traumatised by what they’ve seen.

In a police statement

“Wairarapa Area Commander Inspector Brent Register says Police began receiving reports from eye witnesses about 7:25am, where they reported a hot air balloon in distress.
“It appears the hot air balloon operated by Early Morning Balloons left Kent Street, Carterton (behind The Paua Factory), between 6:40am and 6:45am.”
He says after a 45-minute flight, the balloon was to land in a paddock in Somerset Road, Carterton. As the balloon was preparing to land, it hit wires on a power line, causing sparking in the basket.
“At this point, two of the 11 people onboard, believed to be a male and a female, appear to have jumped from the basket.”
Inspector Register says the balloon then made a sharp ascent, a fire ignited on board and the balloon plummeted into a paddock approx 200 metres away on Somerset Road.
All 11 people on board, including the pilot and five couples from the wider Wellington region, were killed in the crash.
“We are continuing to work with our partner agencies, which include the Coroner’s office, the Civil Aviation Authority, the Transport Accident and Investigation Commission, Dept of Labour, NZ Fire Service and Victim Support.”
Inspector Register says a thorough investigation is being conducted to ascertain the cause of the tragedy…”

Video of crash site

List of Victims

An official list will be released on Sunday but the deceased are believed to include:

The pilot Lance Hooping, Masterton retirees Desmond and Ann Dean who had vouchers for the flight as a Christmas present, Wellington couple Howard and Diana Cox, Wellington woman Alexis Still and her boyfriend Chrisjan Jordaan, who is believed to have originated from South Africa. Another couple have relatives in Victoria, Australia who are travelling to New Zealand.

Again, our deepest condolences go out to their families and friends.

Adventure tourism, deaths and regulation

New Zealand has a shocking safety record for some of its tourism activities, something we’ve often blogged about.

The CAA recently drafted new rules to force all aviation adventure tourism activities, including hot air balloons, microlights, warbirds, and tandem hang gliders and paragliders to hold air operator certificate.

The CAA safeguards civil aviation in New Zealand and has control over which operators can fly passengers and authority to make sure they meet safety standards.

Under Part 115 of the new civil aviation rules, all adventure aviation operators must hold an Operator Certificate.

“For those currently operating under Parts 101, 103, 104, 105, and 106, here are the transition timeframes for gaining a Part 115 Operator Certificate:

  • Hot air balloon, hang glider, paraglider, tandem parachute, and parachute drop aircraft operators must be certificated by 1 May 2012.
  • Microlight aircraft operations must be certificated by 1 Nov 2012.
  • Glider operations must be certificated by 1 May 2013.

Those currently conducting an adventure aviation operation under a Part 119 AOC may continue to do so until the expiry of that certificate, or 10 November 2012, whichever comes first.”

Despite several high profile deaths and injuries, a number of prosecutions and the introduction of a auditing and registration system for all tourism operators, we’re saddened to learn that these tragedies are still occurring.

An all encompassing set of Adventure tourism regulations finally were enacted in October 2011, three and a half years after the drowning  death of British tourist Emily Jordan sparked a review of the adventure tourism industry within NZ.

Incredibly there is a further delay of three years until all 1,500 adventure tourism businesses within New Zealand must be registered and in possession of a safety audit certificate.

We don’t know if Early Morning Balloons ltd was registered or had ever received a safety audit.

More more about adventure tourism safety in NZ read posts tagged accordingly, or our stats and facts page

2 thoughts on “Balloon Clips Powerlines, 11 People Killed In Fireball – Update: Urgent Inquiry Launched

  1. We’re already seeing reports from the Australian ballooning industry saying that the activity in Australia is low risk because it is so tightly regulated, but that they would be looking for any lesson that may be learned.

    We infer from those statements that regulation may be perceived as being more lax in New Zealand than it is in Australia.

    Rare for powerlines to cause disaster

    Chief pilot and owner of Melbourne company Global Ballooning Kiff Saunders said the accident would have ramifications for balloon operations around the world but it was ”rare” for power lines to cause such devastation. ”It is a jolt,” Mr Saunders said.

    He would not speculate on the cause of the accident but said power lines were among the first hazards pilots learned about in training and hot air balloons could hit power lines without causing injuries or fatalities.

    The Transport Accident Investigation Commission, the Civil Aviation Authority and police on behalf of the coroner are investigating the tragedy.

  2. All this tradegy doesn’t help the tourism of New Zealand. In the first place, the tourism of NZ really is practically invisible. I have asked everyone I know, the first thing that comes to their mind when they hear about NZ, is this:

    1. Boring
    2. Sheep
    3. Farms
    4. Boring
    5. Boring

    Tourism is really non-existent here.

    Is it because kiwis are all stiff, emotionless, close-minded, expressionless people who doesn’t give a damn about flaunting their country (is there anything to flaunt about?)? Is this the same reason why most migrants and most locals are forced to leave this place because this country has turned into a somewhat soul-sucking place instead of the paradise that they believed?

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